Mourners at Sarah Conlon’s funeral yesterday heard that she died without bitterness despite the “dreadful injustices” inflicted on her family.
Hundreds of people turned out to pay their final respects to the 82-year-old west Belfast housewife who spent decades campaigning to have the names of her husband Guiseppe and son Gerry cleared over the Guilford bombing.
Mrs Conlon helped secure an apology from former prime minister Tony Blair in 2005 for the wrongful imprisonment of both in what was one of the most high-profile miscarriages of justice cases in British legal history.
Mrs Conlon’s son Gerry helped carry his mother’s coffin into St Peter’s Cathedral, close to her Lisfadden Way home, ahead of Requiem Mass.
Gerry spent 15 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of the Guilford bombing. Her husband, and his father Guiseppe, was arrested after going to London to help him and died in jail.
At the beginning of the hour-long service Father Brendan Mulhall paid tribute to Mrs Conlon, who died of cancer three days ago on Saturday, as “a very special person” who had “touched the lives and hearts” of so many people and “brought so much good into the world”.
And he told the congregation that she would be remembered for her dignity, her courage and her strength.
“Sarah didn’t have an easy life,” he said.
“But in spite of all the terrible, dreadful injustices that were done to Sarah and her family, there wasn’t an ounce of bitterness in her. That’s what everyone found so remarkable about Sarah when they spent time in her company.”
Describing Mrs Conlon as “quite simply a beautiful person”, the priest said that during “those dark, difficult years of separation and pain”, she had asked God to shield her from bitterness.
“That’s why she could even pray for those who treated her family in such an appalling manner. She prayed for those who had done her wrong and then when that wonderful day finally came that Sarah’s family’s name was cleared beyond a shadow of a doubt it was a happy day for her,” he said.
“A day that she had hoped for and prayed for for so long and she said that her beloved Guiseppe was smiling down on her family from Heaven.”
Fr Mulhall described her faith as “rock solid”.
“She touched the lives of so many people and she inspired them deeply,” he added.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan and his deputy Alastair Mcdonnell were among the mourners at the church, as well as other MLAs and councillors. After the service there were emotional scenes as Mrs Conlon’s heartbroken daughters Ann and Bridie wept over the coffin. Inside the hearse an array of bouquets bearing roses, carnations and orchids in red and white and pink and purple, bore messages from loved ones, including one that read: ‘Granny, you will be loved and missed by your granddaughters Sarah, Joanne, Mary, Kate and Bronagh’.
The funeral cortege then made its way towards her final resting place at Belfast’s Millfield Cemetery.